The judicial hanging of Yaqub Memon, an accused of Mumbai blasts of 1993, and the undue haste in which this was carried out on July 30, 2015 has once again highlighted the discrimination practiced by the different wings of the Indian state towards sections of Indian citizens. It has raised many questions and large sections of people have protested against this. A large attendance at the funeral of Yaqub Memon which has been dubbed as anti-national by BJP and Shiv Sena, testifies to the growing unease among large sections of people against the brazenness of such exercise.
Besides, the debate on desirability and efficacy of capital punishment, which has been going on for a long time and which gets particularly sharp whenever any capital punishment is going to carried out, the hanging of Yaqub Memon has raised two important sets of questions. The first of these relates to whether Yaqub Memon’s culpability in the blasts has been correctly assessed, whether mitigating factors like his cooperation with investigative agencies have been given due weightage and whether Indian agencies had promised him lenient treatment in exchange for his cooperation; in all, whether it qualified to be the “rarest of rare” case deserving capital punishment as repeatedly enunciated by the Supreme Court. Yaqub Memon’s culpability is based on a single witness; moreover his role has been ascribed to be only supportive. It is not only the gravity of the crime but the alleged culpability of the accused in that which has to be the basis of such assessment. The Supreme Court has sought to overcome this in Afzal Guru case by resorting to “conscience of society” a new addition to the principles of jurisprudence. Based on the hard evidence, neither Afzal Guru nor Yaqub Memon deserved capital punishment even under the existing law.
Equally relevant is the total disregard of his cooperation with law enforcement agencies and the commitment made to him by the intelligence agencies which were instrumental in arranging for Memon family to come back to the country. This aspect so disturbed the former Anti-Terrorism Division chief of R&AW, B. Raman who supervised the whole operation and which apparently had drawn appreciation from the then Prime Minister Mr. P. Narasimha Rao, to pen his opposition to the death sentence to Yaqub Memon. It is strange that Indian authorities who were in full knowledge of this, chose not to mention it before the Court.
Second and the even more disturbing question, relates to the communal bias in disposal of such cases by the judiciary and authorities dealing with disposal of mercy petitions of death row convicts. Courts have adopted different yardsticks in disposal of different cases. Uniformity is an essential quality of law where even differentiation also aims to serve the equality before law. Maya Kodnani convicted in Gujarat riots case and Amit Shah accused in cold blooded murder of a number of Muslims by Gujarat police have been dealt differently and shown leniency. ‘Conscience of the nation’ is not stirred when perpetrators of anti-Sikh genocide of 1984 and culprits of anti-Muslim killings and mayhem in Gujarat in 2002 go scot free, when Govts. conspire to defeat justice in such cases. Intervention of higher judiciary in these cases has not ensured punishment to the culprits of such heinous crimes. Judicial interpretation of ‘conscience of the nation’ has been quite pliable to say the least.
This aspect also stands out when one considers how Justice Srikrishna Commission Report into Mumbai anti-Muslim violence in January 1993 was consigned to the dustbin. Justice Srikrishna had held Bal Thakrey responsible for orchestrating killings of Muslims. Not only no action was taken against him, he was given a state funeral. Reports into Bhagalpur violence against Muslims too was also thrown aside and culprits were not brought to book. Recently, all the accused PAC personnel in Hashimpura killings were acquitted by the Court.
The undue haste with which Courts have disposed off Yaqub Memon’s appeals and executed the capital punishment has also been subject of people’s disquiet and anger. His mercy petitions were dismissed by Maharashtra Governor and President of India on the same day. Supreme Court sat the whole night ostensibly to clear the way for his hanging at 7 AM the same day. Even the customary reprieve of 14 days after the disposal of his last legal recourse before the hanging was not granted to him. It showed that the Govt. was in tearing hurry to hang him lest some new facts may come out to put a spanner in its works. While in Afzal Guru’s case many of these legal rights were given a go-by, in Yaqub Memon’s case the motions were gone through reducing them to a farce in the process.
The hanging of Yaqub Memon is a pointer to the direction in which RSS-BJP dispensation wishes to lead the country. It wants to drive home to minorities that they should not expect equal treatment at the hands of organs of the state. They are cynically deepening communal division in the country in order to intensify attacks against the people and disrupt the unity of the people against these attacks. RSS-BJP are helped in this by deep communalization of the state agencies particularly those constituting the deep state. BJP-RSS is also helped in this by the role of most of the parliamentary opposition parties, particularly main opposition party Congress, who have never confronted majority communalism, who recognize its utility in dividing the people and consolidating their votes among different sections of the people. Response to Yaqub Memon’s hanging has brought this out clearly.
It is the people of the country who should rise against this blatant discrimination practiced against the minorities, who should recognize and fight against this ploy to disrupt their unity against attacks on their lives, land and livelihood, who should realize that these attacks are part and parcel of the attacks against the Indian people who are groaning under poverty, destitution, backwardness and reeling under the heavy burden of price-rise, unemployment and corruption, who are denied even basic human existence by the ruling dispensation and who should refuse to facilitate the rulers to annihilate their meagre rights.